Two propaganda flops in less than two weeks: Is Beijing losing its touch?

The official Chinese media appear to have it in for US Ambassador Gary Locke. But their angry attacks against him are backfiring with Chinese Twitterati.

U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office/AP
In this May 2 file photo, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (c.) holds hands with US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, at a hospital in Beijing.

The official Chinese media really have it in for US Ambassador Gary Locke. But now their angry attacks against him are backfiring.

Ever since he arrived here last August, Mr. Locke’s image as a “regular guy” has won widespread admiration from Chinese bloggers and, it seems, irked the authorities.

The way he tried to get a discount at Starbucks with a coupon en route to Beijing, and carried his own backpack, is the polar opposite of the way aloof and pampered Chinese officials behave. So when Chinese citizens praise him, by implication they are criticizing their own leaders.

Lashing out at the US ambassador earlier this month for his role in protecting blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, the Beijing Daily published a strongly worded criticism of his “little tricks.”

But readers’ reactions to the editorial were so negative that within hours “Beijing Daily” was a banned search word on the Chinese Internet, effectively closing down social media debate on the article.

That setback does not appear to have chastened Beijing Daily, however, and today the paper put its foot in it again.

Editors used the daily’s account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, to post a snide request, responding to another post about Locke’s wealth.

“Will Gary Locke please disclose his personal assets?” it asked.

The question was, perhaps, conceived as a sideways commentary on the lively debate currently underway in China about the need for top officials here – often accused of corruption – to disclose their wealth.

But of course, the editors simply revealed their ignorance. As scornful readers quickly informed them, Locke HAS disclosed his personal assets, just like every other member of the US government. (According to his 2010 declaration, he is worth between $1,356,025 and $7,615,999, which makes him the sixth richest person in the executive branch.)

“Of course Gary Locke’s personal assets have been disclosed,” read one comment on the Beijing Daily post. “And what about the assets of those imperial officials [of ours]?

Within hours, Beijing Daily’s original post and all comments on it had been deleted from Sina Weibo, according to David Bandurski of Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, who tracked the incident in real time.

Two propaganda flops in less than two weeks: Beijing Daily is losing its touch.

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